Fresh from signing a new two-year deal at the Newcastle Jets, midfielder Steven Ugarkovic feels the club is primed to break their Hyundai A-League Finals Series drought, saying there's a good vibe around the coastal city this season.
It’s been more than six years since the Jets last played finals football, with the club enduring some tumultuous times in recent seasons.
But the tide appears to be turning this season with an air of optimism around the region on the back of improving form.
Back-to-back wins has the Jets riding high in fifth spot ahead of their Round 12 Boxing Day clash against Wellington Phoenix at McDonald Jones Stadium.
“It’s been a real long time for the Jets [playing in the finals], not just for the club but for the fans also. It would be great to give the Hunter region something to cheer about,” Ugarkovic told www.a-league.com.au.
“There’s a good feeling about the club this year, the performances and things like that.
“We’ve had back-to-back wins and hopefully we can get the third on Boxing Day.
“It’s exciting times ahead. Hopefully we can just stay focused and get the three points. We’re sitting fifth [going into Round 12] so another win would cement our spot.
“We’re just looking to make our way up the table.”
After spending four years in Croatia, the Australian Under-23 international joined the club in January of this year, signing an 18-month deal in the Hunter under Scott Miller.
Ugarkovic made an immediate impact on the side in the second half of last season, and carried that form into the new season, scoring once in 10 appearances.
It’s led to a new two-year contract secured in the last week, the perfect Christmas present for the 22-year-old.
And he’s one of a few youngsters making an impression in the Jets side, with Andrew Nabbout, Devante Clut, Andrew Hoole and Johnny Koutroumbis all making a mark at times this season.
For the Baulkham Hills-born midfielder, there’s a good balance in the Newcastle squad.
“There’s a good base there of young players which is what you need,” Ugarkovic said.
“[Nabbout] has been excellent for us. He’s been an outlet, he’s been a supplier, he’s strong on the ball, he’s quick, he’s having a great season.
“At the moment he’s been very consistent. He’s got four man-of-the-match awards, it doesn’t get more consistent than that.
“But there’s a great base of experienced players as well which is what every young player needs behind them.
“A Nigel Boogaard, a Daniel Mullen and Mateo Poljak. That’s the sort of leaders you need in the team to carry the young boys.
“[Poljak] on the field is a great player and off the field he’s a great guy. I look up to him a fair bit.”
Having spent four years in Croatia, this is the first time in a number of seasons Ugarkovic will be playing over the festive period and not having a winter break.
“When I was overseas we had the Christmas break so there was no training, it was two weeks off for us,” he said.
“It will be interesting training on Christmas Day, it’s hard to see the family but I’m definitely looking forward to playing on Boxing Day.
“It’s a good time for the league, people are on school holidays so it’s great for the fan base of the A-League. We’re looking for a lot of fans to come out and support.”
Following the clash with Phoenix, the Jets have two massive games - they travel to Melbourne to take on Victory on Monday, January 2 before another difficult trip to Brisbane against Roar five days later.